Greek cuisine: start with starters

040322_mezes.jpgMeze (or mezethes) are Greek appetizers or meal starters. somewhat equivalent to Spanish tapas, French hors d'oeuveurs, Italian antipasti and similar small dishes found throughout the mediterranean region. In Greece, nibbling on meze is an essential prelude to big meals and sometimes becomes the whole meal during daytime dining. The simplest type of meze usually consist of a plate of olives, cheese (usually feta or kefalotyri), tomato, cucumber and maybe a hardboiled egg. More elaborate meze include dips like tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic), taramo-salata (fish roe paste and bread), melitzano-salata (eggplant, green pepper, garlic, similar to babaganoush), revythosalata (chick peas, garlic, olive oil, lemon, similar to humous) and skordalia (potato or bread, garlic, oil and lemon).

Filo or flaky pastry meze are served cold or hot and include tyropita (feta cheese pie), spanakopita (spinach pie) or spanakotyropita, a combination of the two. Vegetables meze include horiatiki salata (village salad with tomatoes, cucumber, onions, herbs, olives and feta cheese), melitzanes tiganites (fried eggplant), kolokythakia (cooked string beans) and horta (boiled wild greens, served cold with olive oil).

Dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice and meat), keftedes (meat balls with egg, breadcrumbs, tomatoes, onions, herbs and mint, fried in olive oil) and souvlaki (pork chunks flavored with olive oil, lemon and herbs, grilled on on skewers) are popular meat-based meze. Seafood meze include marides , garides (fried shrimp), kalamarakia (small squids, fried whole, they're eaten ink, guts and all) and kalamari (squid, filleted, sliced into rings and fried).

040322_meze_book.jpgDiane Kochilas, the doyenne of Greek cusine authors, has written the definitive book on meze called Meze : Small Plates to Savor and Share from the Mediterranean. Here's a description of what's in the book, from the editorial review on Amazon.com:

Early on in Meze Diane Kochilas, award-winning author of The Glorious Foods of Greece, sets the prototypic meze stage: two village codgers holding down either side of a small table; two glasses and a carafe of raki between them; a plate with some bread, olives, air-dried anchovies, cucumber sticks, and cheese. They do not sit at the table so much as beside the table, the better to take in the world.

And thus it is with meze. It's not about sitting down to eat as much as being present to exchange ideas, enjoy a glass of wine or spirits, and snack on taste treats that enliven the palate and pull all the threads of the whole into one. Kochilas divides Meze into "Dips, Spreads, and Relishes"; "Savory Salads"; "Small Egg Dishes"; "Phyllo Pies"; "Finger Foods and Fried Treats"; "Vegetable and Bean Mezethes"; "A Sea's Bounty"; "From Meatballs to Kebabs"; and, the "Meze Pantry."

On a health-related note, Kafeneo would like to point out that meze are not the place to start if you are looking to adopt mediterrean cusine to lower your colesterol levels. As much as we love 'em, meze are full of yogurt, cheeses, eggs, meat, shellfish and lots and lots of olive oil, which means that they taste great but are hard for your arteries. Although we can't help but notice that those old codgers mentioned in Kochilas' book feast on mezes, wine and ouzo on a daily basis and live to be a hundred. What's their secret, the weather?

Posted on March 22, 2004 in Food & Drink | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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